U.S. Corps of Topographical Engineers

THE MEXICAN WAR

The Army of the West - Fort Leavenworth to Bent's Fort

From William H. Emory, 1848.  Notes of a Military Reconnaissance from Fort Leavenworth in Missouri to San Diego, in California. 30th Congress, 1st session, Senate Document No. 7.

The military force under Colonel Kearny, destined for the conquest of New Mexico and the countries beyond, consisted of two batteries of artillery, (6-pounders,) under the command of Major Clark, three squadrons of the first dragoons, under Major Sumner, the first regiment of Missouri cavalry, under Colonel Doniphan, and two companies of infantry, under Captain Agney.  This force was detached in different columns from Fort Leavenworth, and were concentrated with admirable order and precision on the 1st of August, at a camp nine miles below Bent's Fort.
    And here I would take occasion to speak of the excellent understanding which prevailed throughout between regulars and volunteers, and the cheerfulness with which they came to each others assistance whenever the privations and hardships of the march called for the interchange of kindly offices among them.  The volunteers, though but recently accustomed to the ease and comforts of smiling homes, bore up against fatigue, hunger, and the vicissitudes of a long and tedious march, through unexplored regions, with a zeal, courage, and devotion that would have graced time-worn veterans, and reflect the highest credit on their conduct as soldiers.  There was a noble emulation in the conduct of regulars and volunteers, which, in no small degree, benefitted the service;  while, at the same time, it promoted that cordiality in their interests which will make their future meetings, in the more peaceful walks of life, a gladsome event to both.

From Richard Smith Elliot, in The Mexican War Correspondence of Richard Smith Elliott, edited and annotated by Mark L. Gardner and Marc Simmons.

FORT LEAVENWORTH, June 27.

After breakfast the topographical engineers, Lieuts. [James W.] Abert, [William H.] Emory and [William G.] Peck, started for the prairies.  They had some eight or ten voyageurs as servants, several pack mules, a baggage wagon, and a handsome spring car, with four mules harnessed to it, to "tote" their instruments.

From James W. Abert,  taken from his journal

     Saturday, June 27, 1846: This morning at 11 o'clock we set out from Fort Leavenworth. The day was clear and bright and we fully enjoyed the beautiful scenes that our progress gradually developed. Some of us had never seen prairie land; they could scarce believe but that it had been cultivated. The ground was rolling, and in gentlest curves one swell melted into another. Now and then a light cloud hung over the landscape, and the grass in its shadow contrasted with that upon the sunlight fell gave a charming variety. At 8 miles from the Fort we passed a large butte, Pilot Knob, the top flat and on each side the ground united with the valley in a curve like that of a rope when slackly drawn. Spreading over the valleys and climbing almost to the top of the butte, we saw fine forests of timber. As we moved on we noticed scattering signs of the Volunteers: tinware, camp kettles, and in one place a broken wagon.
    Our mules gave us a good deal of trouble, for as in all cases of a start they had forgotten all they ever knew of wagons. The old practice of choking them with the lazo had to be put in practice. By this means we soon rendered the most refractory mules perfectly manageable. Whilst upon the ground, almost senseless for want of breath, the halter is fixed upon it, and it recovers itself to find that man is the master.
    After a march of 13 miles we reached an enclosed piece of ground and, near by, some log houses. We expected therefore to find water here, and were not disappointed, for we found a fine spring of cold water, the best we had tasted since leaving Pennsylvania, for in addition to its being cold it was also clear. The woods around were chiefly oak, and the undergrowth a mixture of hazel bushes, sumach, and chestnut oak, a dwarf species sometimes called "shin oak." As we retired to rest the sky became cloudy, and before long a plentiful shower of rain fell which annoyed us greatly for it drove through our tent. We observed great numbers of turkey buzzards.
    Sunday, June 28: During the early part of the morning the rain of last night continued, but as there were signs of clearing off we got ready to start. At 7 o'clock we were on our route. Before starting I went down to a log house close by, and whilst examining it I heard the chirruping of birds and on searching found the sound proceeded from the chimney. There on the inside of the chimney I found a beautiful nest in the shape of a half basket firmly attached to the side of the chimney with clay. The outside was covered with moss and the inside lined with horsehair and soft grass. Here I found five young birds, unfledged and their eyes not yet open. Whilst examining the nest the anxious parent flitted over my head. She is what is called the "grey bird," of the Finch genus.
    After some trouble we got our mules off again. The rains made the soft road cut in. Whilst crossing a ravine we stalled on the steep side of it. Here our mules toiled in vain although all the men assisted them. At length a gentleman from one of the Volunteer companies took 8 yoke of oxen and came to our aid, and we were soon extricated from this difficulty. Passing on over gently rising and falling swells and valleys, with a delightful breeze fanning us, we felt our spirits rise with the clearing away of the clouds, and soon the sun broke forth in splendor. We passed an ox on the road which had died and was left just where it had fallen. Our horses shied much in passing, influenced by the instinctive dread that living animals have for the dead. We now came in sight of a large body of Volunteers. They were just preparing to march. We managed to get ahead of them, but before we had gone far were again stopped by a difficult passage of a little brook. We failed to ascend the bank by the usual road and were obliged to strike out one for ourselves.
    After a march of 11 miles we reached Stranger's Creek, a romantic little stream shaded by lofty oaks and bounded by high banks. We were obliged to unload our wagons in order to ascend the bank on the farther side. Here we lost so much time that we determined to encamp although the ground suitable was a considerable distance from the creek. The woods were skirted by a dense undergrowth of hazel and plum trees and tangled grapevines.
    We noticed today the abundance of the Asclepias (orange-colored), and the little quail were continually rising from beneath our horses' feet, startling them with the whirring sound of their wings. We noticed too the meadowlark. Crossing the creek, we found a flat bottom covered with rank grass whose edges are lined with fine teeth, easily felt by drawing a blade of grass over one's finger.
    We found this afternoon that the hinder axle of our baggage wagon was broken and, sending to the Volunteer camp, obtained the aid of Mr. Maxwell, who immediately went to work on a fine piece of hickory. The axle will be completed early tomorrow.
    A black dog belonging to some man of the companies we passed followed us, but finding out his error would every now and then send forth most piteous howlings. Mosquitoes were very numerous and we lay down to be tormented by these provoking pests; but few of us were able to sleep. Around our camp we noticed great quantities of the rosin weed, which furnished the mules a pleasant repast; they seem particularly fond of it.
    Monday, June 29: Yesterday evening we found that the hind axletree of our wagon had been split, and being fearful lest we should break down at some place where timber could not be obtained we determined to repair the damage immediately. 'We sent out two men to procure a good piece of timber and they soon brought in a fine piece of hickory which they brought into camp by attaching it by the lazo to the neck of one of their mules. Lucky for us, too, there was a good carpenter in the Volunteer camp that we passed yesterday, and although his tools consisted only of a saw, an axe, a drawing knife, and auger, he yet managed to fashion a very good axletree. This work detained us until near 1 o'clock. We then started off with great spirit, for we had also through the kindness of Col. Ruff obtained a new teamster, the old man we had had having deserted during the night.
    The prairie is still what is called "rolling prairie." Along some of the ravines the bottoms were perfectly flat and covered with the rosin weed that grew as abundant as the grass with which it was intermixed. The purple Asclepias was also very abundant. The timber on the ravines was composed of the white oak, black mulberry, black walnut, hickory, and the redbud, and nettles grew to the luxuriant height of five or six feet.
    As we continued to approach the Kansas its tributaries seemed to increase rapidly and the rolls in the prairies also multiplied. At 8 o'clock we ascended a high ridge that gave us a fine view of the whole surrounding country. It seemed to me that if an atom so small that a large leaf were a world of prairie to him were gifted with all the perceptions of man, this leaf would present the same appearance as the rolls of the prairie, and the multiplex veins would resemble the valleys that intersected it.
    Riding along admiring the beautiful scene spread around us, we were suddenly startled by the cry, "Take care your horse! Take care your horse!" And one of the French boys' came down the road at top speed. We made way and let him pass. He was breaking in a wild mule, and the skill with which he kept his seat was truly wonderful. We presently reached a little stream whose banks were excessively steep and slippery. The wagon attempted to ascend, when the fore wheel sinking middeep into the mud completely stopped all progress. We were therefore obliged to unload everything and then clap all hands to the wheels, when we rose the hill amid the cheers of the men.
    As we neared the Kaw River some of went on ahead. We soon came in sight of an Indian house. They said that they were Shawnees. They appeared very comfortably fixed, had numbers of very fine-looking cattle, and within a few yards of the house a clear stream from the hillside spouted forth from a gutter of bark; it was cool and sweet and we drank as much as we wanted and filled our canteens. We asked the Indians the distance to the Kansas River. They told us 1 1/2 miles. We crossed quite a high ridge and then entered upon a low, level bottom that was overgrown with grass four feet high amongst which we observed the long-leafed willow (used by the Shawnees for preparing kinnikinick), the willow, and cottonwood.
    A quarter of a mile from the riverbank we entered the timber again. The ground was covered with deep sand and we hesitated whether or no to cross the river before tomorrow, but as there was no very good camping ground on this side we concluded to pass over. We landed just at the mouth of the Wakaroosa, and it was near 10 o'clock before all were ferried over although we had two flatboats. The current of the river was very rapid, its water clear, and its breadth about 80 yards and depth 8 feet. Just at the mouth of the Wakaroosa it is 14 feet deep. The current of the latter stream was extremely sluggish.
    When we had all landed it was so dark we could scarcely see, for the night was cloudy, so we camped on the riverbank and sent our horses out on the prairie to graze. Our own suppers were not finished until near 12 o’clock, and worn out as we were we could not sleep on account of the abundance of mosquitoes. A large hooting owl, as if to condole with us, commenced his nightly serenade.
    Tuesday, June 30: The pure clear water of the Wakaroosa looked so inviting that some of us could not refrain from taking advantage of it by bathing. One of the flatboats formed a convenient place from which to plunge. The sun was rising surrounded by golden clouds. In one of the other flatboats three Indians who had assisted in ferrying us over were soundly sleeping, and far away stretched the gradually diminishing trees that hang over the Kansas' waters.
    We engaged here an Indian to come with us and assist us, and also discharged one of the men for being quarrelsome. Our horses had not had much time to eat last night and we found it difficult to urge them along among the green prairie.
    At 8¼ o'clock we had our first glimpse of the Wakaroosa buttes. On our right hand there was a large cornfield of about 30 acres, then a line of timber stretching away ever so far; on our left, rolling prairie until you approach the buttes. The road could be distinctly seen crossing the top of the swells, and as we continued to advance we found that it led us directly between the two buttes, and the right-hand one was in part covered with timber. Passing on between them, we saw on our left the divide which separates this valley from that of the Osage and upon which the Santa Fe road is laid out. We soon found that the trail we had been following merged into that of the Oregon, but continued on in hopes it would soon diverge towards the south. Shortly after crossing this trail we descended a steep declivity and found ourselves on a creek and noticed here that the Indians had been working for coal. In the superincumbent shale we found traces of fossils resembling the broad flat leaves of the Iris.
    Whilst we were examining the coal formation, my horse, that had been driven almost mad by the flies, broke from his fastening and rushed into the creek in order to roll in the water and thus free himself of his tormentors. What a misfortune! for my saddle and bridle, pistols, and "fixens" were upon his back. Some of the party dashed towards him and, springing up, he galloped off scattering my accoutrements on the road; but I recovered everything, even my pistols, one of which was found with great difficulty.
    We continued on through flat bottoms that were marshy, and at length finding that the persons whose trail we followed had misled us we encamped hard by the Wakaroosa River. During this day our animals suffered greatly from the flies.
    This morning at the Kansas River we saw the first flock of parroquets; they lit in a large cottonwood tree directly over our heads. Amongst the birds we noticed doves, flickers, bluebirds, towhee buntings, crows; the latter were flying near a large cornfield and were doubtless watching with intense interest the ripening of the grain. Those friends of prairie voyageurs the cowbirds made their appearance and quietly installed themselves on the backs of the mules. The elder is yet in bloom. Amongst the undergrowth near the timber we noticed too the brown butterfly which flits around the Asclepias, and the common yellow butterfly.
    Our camp is on a high point which separates the forks of two little ravines. The grass is good, and our situation, high and airy, bids defiance to the mosquitoes.
    Wednesday, July 1: We arose early this morning and made our way back to the trail we had left after crossing Coal Creek. After a march of three miles we reached the trail we sought for. We travelled through a valley whose level was entirely distinct from the one upon which the Wakaroosa buttes are based, and the plain above unites with this one by numerous slopes so arranged that they bear a resemblance to the exterior slopes of parapets. At length we reached the foot of a slope by which we ascended to the second plain above us, which was 150 feet higher. Taking a bearing back, we found that the Wakaroosa buttes were N 40o E. We had a very heavy drag up the slope, but the mules did not falter, and after travelling 8 miles further we reached the Santa Fe road.
    Before we had proceeded far we met a man driving an ox team. He had accompanied some of the Volunteer companies to carry provisions and, his wagon being emptied, was now on his return. We met on this road with innumerable quantities of horseflies which drove our animals nearly crazy; they kept panting and kicking at such a furious rate that it was extremely unpleasant to ride on them. Having heard from one friend whom we met that it was 20 miles to water, we determined to camp soon and pitched our tents on the same camping ground upon which we had been one year since. Here we collected some handsome flowers, and insects, among which was grasshopper which is very abundant on the prairie. The stream upon which we are located is now only a line of unconnected pools. The only trees to be seen were some tall elms in whose tops some turkey buzzards were now roosting. Catbirds were screaming in the undergrowth beneath these trees. We found here some new kinds of Rudbeckia and other flowers.
    Thursday, July 2: This morning we arose very early and were off on the 20-mile reach. The dew last night was very heavy, and when we awoke we found it standing in little pools on the tops of our mosquito bars.
    The prairies about this region are full of little mounds of earth which are thrown up by the gophers, and in passing along the horses’ feet sink to the fetlock in them. Our road today was full of the Old-field Plover. We shot some of them and preserved their skins, more as a memento of the prairie than as a curiosity. They find abundance of food in the crickets which fill the grass and here grow to an immense size; we found one this morning in the washbasin that was an inch and a half long. As we proceeded on our journey amongst chirruping crickets and humming grasshoppers we reached a portion of the great stretch where nothing was seen but a wide expanse of green grass and the sky above us, now filled with light feathery clouds whose grateful shadows as they passed over assisted the delightful breeze, that one always meets on the prairies, in keeping us cool. After progressing a long distance over a country whose irregularities were so gently curved that one almost doubted if there were any curvature in its surface, we reached a high ridge. Here we found the half-devoured carcase of an ox that had doubtless succumbed to the fatigues of the journey, and some turkey vultures sailing above us showed by their actions that they were not ignorant of ox's death. We noticed today several swallow-tailed hawks circling high in the air. I should think it impossible for any bird to escape it, uniting as it does the swiftness of the swallow with the boldness and strength of wing of the hawk.
    About 12 o'clock we reached 110-Mile Creek and there found some robins, catbirds, and bluebirds. Nigh a little stream, amongst a bed of _________I caught some beautiful butterflies, one of which is often found on the orange-colored Asclepias. Before we had fairly pitched our camp young Mr. Nourse of Wash City entered our encampment. He had [left] Fort [Leavenworth] on Sunday, and brought us letters from our friends at home. We here found some of the pomme blanche, which in taste greatly resembles the sweet potato.
    Friday, July 3: We arose early this morning determined to push forward and get clear of the Volunteer companies, whose horses will destroy all the grazing near the different camping grounds. The season appears to be unusually dry; this creek was at this time last year quite deep and flowing with considerable rapidity, and now one finds only a few pools in its bed.
    We had some of the sick at our camp last night and rendered them all the aid in our power. As we left them this morning they looked quite sad at heart. All day we have had a brisk breeze from the southwest which makes the travelling very pleasant, and the plover and cowbirds were playing along the road in front of us. At r o o'clock we reached Independence Creek, so called by Capt. Fremont in consequence of our camping here on the 8th of July one year previous. We also passed one at 7¼ o'clock, and another at 11 o'clock, but there was very little water in them. Independence Creek is the only running stream we have seen since leaving the Wakaroosa River.
    Today I got some lamb's-quarters, plantain weed, and a beautiful sensitive plant with a yellow flower resembling the shape of the violet. The ravine upon which we have encamped is timbered with elm, cottonwood, hickory, and oak. We sent out some hunters and got a few wild turkeys and saw several curlew, plovers, and teal.
    Saturday, July 4: We arose early this morning determined to push forward, for we thought it more patriotic to labour for our country than to spend the day in idleness. We crossed the creek upon which we had encamped at 51/2 o'clock, and soon reached some elevated ground from whence we could see our road crossing a high ridge in a direction S 60o W. Whilst prosecuting our march we noticed two distant spots on the horizon, and as we neared them we judged from the white light one of the objects threw, when the sunlight fell upon them, and from their motions, that they were horsemen and one of their horses was white. Before long we reached them and found our conjectures to be correct. They said that they were traders and had been as far as Council Grove.
    At 7 o'clock we crossed a stream of running water, the first since leaving Independence Creek. At 8 o'clock we reached one composed of pools, its banks heavily timbered with walnut, and we here found some of the buckeye. We noticed quantities of gooseberry bushes and elder. At half after ten we crossed another stream of running water and at 12 o'clock we found ourselves at Rock Creek. This creek is very appropriately named, as its banks chiefly consist of rock. Near where the road crossed is a large pool from four to five feet deep forming a fine bathing place, but we did not stop here, but pushed forward for Big John Spring,' which we reached at 3 o'clock. We luxuriated in the delightfully cool water of this celebrated spring, reclining under the shade of a huge oak – "sub tegmine querci"' – at whose base the spring originates. We saw today two beautiful varieties of the evening primrose, the white and the yellow, and noticed amongst the birds the brown thrush, the kingbird, grouse, and quail.
    Sunday, July 5: This morning early we left the Big John Spring. We wished that we could have taken this spring along with us. The water was clear and cold, its temperature being only 53o. Oak was most abundant, but we also noticed the black walnut and the sycamore.
    At half past 6 o'clock we arrived at Council Grove.  Here one finds a fine stream of running water and great quantities of quartz and highly fossiliferous limestone.
    Shortly before reaching Council Grove we passed a grave of a white man who was killed some time ago by an Osage Indian. A circular pile of rough stones marks this unpretending grave; from the crevices the ivy has shot forth. Over the whole a bent stick is leaning mournfully. When I viewed this simple grave my mind turned to the proud monuments which we see built up by the wealthy in our great cities and which are daily leveled with the ground to give place to some improvement. Here on the wild prairie the Indian and the rude hunters pass by this spot and not for the world would they remove one stone. Who now shall we call the rude man? the wild man?
    Continuing our march we travelled over a distance of about 20 miles, when we reached Diamond Spring. This spring is several feet across and the water makes one's hands feel extremely cold. The temperature of the spring is 54o while that of the air, the thermometer in the shade, is 87o. I procured at this place a beautiful white thistle which is of a delicious fragrance. We saw a great many nighthawks and plovers. They let us approach very nigh them. We also noticed some grouse and several herds of deer.
    Monday, July 6: As we set out to go, our mules took a freak into their heads and endeavoured to run off with the provision wagon, but the driver turned off into the wide prairie and soon succeeded in quieting them for the time, but he had several trials for their mastery before the day's march was concluded. After travelling 15 miles we arrived at Lost Spring but did not stop as its appearance was not at all inviting.
    We noticed on the road numerous specimens of fungi which resembled in size and appearance a human skull of most beautiful whiteness, and the under side was somewhat puckered as if a napkin had been placed over a round body and the ends drawn together with a string. The interior presented the appearance of flour except that it possessed cohesion.
    We now pressed forward to reach Cottonwood Fork, which is near 30 miles distant from our point of departure. We had a tedious march and did not reach the Cottonwood until 3 o'clock. The animals were much worn, and add to this, the moment they arrived myriads of horseflies attacked them and the animals appeared almost distracted. Mosquitoes too were exceedingly troublesome all day. On a part of our route rain had lately fallen; this made the road heavy and more difficult of travel than we had anticipated.
    This creek is timbered with cottonwood trees, high, lofty fellows that keep the leaves continually rustling, for the slightest breeze will move them. We noticed, too, quantities of elder in full blossom, also the beautiful Monarda over which many butterflies were flitting, and the banks of the stream were hidden in many places by a dense growth of long-leafed willow. The general level of the prairie is about go feet above the stream. Just where the road crosses there is quite a fine pool of water from 5 to 6 feet deep.
    Tuesday, July 7: We concluded that it would be best to lie by for the day as our journey yesterday was very harassing to our cavalcade, and we employed ourselves in getting all in readiness, for I expect this is the last stop we may make for some time. Everything was overhauled and the men had a chance to wash their clothes. (Monday we caught some fine fish in this stream, among which were the black bass, the sun perch, and the catfish.) We noticed quantities of the goldenrod on the plain, and along the stream the box elder and plum tree grew luxuriantly, also the swamp dogwood and long-leafed willow. In the afternoon Mr. Nourse found some springs about 400 yards north of the road. During the day we sent out an Indian hunter in pursuit of antelope, but he did not kill any. About 8 o'clock the Volunteers made their appearance but did not cross the creek. Col. Kearney is still some distance behind.
    Wednesday, July 8: At 8 o'clock this morning we were on the mute for Turkey Creek." The day was pleasant and cool, for the sky was cloudy. We had now reached the short grass, which is not more than four or five inches in height.
    On our road we noticed the frontal bone of a buffalo's skull, and on either side were little circular spots marking the places in which they once wallowed. Along the roadside were numbers of busy tumblebugs laying in their winter store, "haud non ignari aut incauti futuri." We stopped to noon at half past 11 o'clock and after a rest of half an hour we started again and in a little while reached a stream, and at half past  2 we formed our camp on Turkey. Creek. Here we found abundance of the yampah and a species of narrow-leafed Asclepias, also a new variety of Helianthus. We dug up many roots of the yampah and find it far better than the celebrated pomme blanche. In the water of this stream we caught some sun perch and eat fish, and one of the men brought me a grey rattlesnake, a variety that Mr. Roubideau says never exceeds 2? ft. in length. Before we had been long in camp the Volunteers arrived, and before dark the sky became black with heavy clouds, soon followed by a severe shower of rain.
    Thursday, July 9: At daylight we were off again, and ere long a heavy cloud passed over, completely deluging us with rain. Such events were frequent during the day. We, however, managed to snatch a few moments during which the rain ceased, in order to renovate our exhausted animals. We noticed some old buffalo skulls on the road. They must have lain here for three or four years as they were much broken. About 3 o'clock we reached the Little Arkansas and the rain again ceased so that we could form our encampment. This stream is only 4 or 5 feet in width and about 3 inches deep. On its banks were some large trees of elm. We noticed too the box elder, common elder, narrow-leafed willow, and grape. Sorrel and lamb's-quarters were also abundant. During the day we saw a fine antelope. Menard went out to shoot it, but the rainy weather had injured the powder so that his gun would not go off. We noticed today the white and pink sensitive plant. The latter is of a most delicious fragrance and completely perfumed my hat.
    Again the Volunteers followed us up closely. We heard that some of the companies on behind were suffering with hunger, but if they are annoyed as we are I think they must suffer more than hunger. The flies have blown our horse blankets. It is impossible to keep them free, and the idea of riding or sleeping on such masses of creeping corruption is exceedingly disgusting.
    Friday, July 10: Still rainy. The clouds are chasing each other rapidly across the sky and now and then the rain pours heavily down, but our tents only alter the force of the shower without sheltering us from its effect. I should theref1fore much prefer traveling to lying still all day, but rainy weather injures our mules very much. We noticed today some square-tailed swallows. As the road was very slippery and heavy we stopped at one of the tributary branches of Cow Creek. We collected today some lamb's-quarters and had them cooked for our dinner. They proved very palatable. We also noticed today an abundance of purslane; this too would make a very good vegetable. We found at this creek the ash. We hear the jay, kingfisher, turtledove, and the quail.
    Saturday, July 11: We were up this morning at half past three and all ready to start. The mosquitoes last night did not let us rest and our arrangement of bars was broken in upon by the rain. Cow Creek was very difficult to cross; one of the mules mired down very deep. After crossing we rapidly approached Plum Buttes, bearing 20o north of west, and passed through a prairie-dog village. It appeared much deserted although there were evident signs of the dogs' having thrown out some dirt from their excavations. They were inundated last night. In the ponds which had settled on the plain we noticed several crawfish. Crickets were gathered around some ant hills feeding, and in the road the land tortoise and the little lizard were scrambling to get away from beneath the wheels of our wagons. We saw also some prairie snakes, and on reaching the buttes found a couple of young buffaloes, one of which we killed. We found several new plants, and camped on the banks of the Arkansas near a Santa Fe company.
    Sunday, July 12: We left the Ark and marched to Walnut Creek. Then the Hoffmans again overtook us. We went over and had some bread and molasses. This creek must at times be difficult to cross. We noticed today the Cucurbita and cactus; also the Pinette de prairie, which is very abundant.   We waited at Walnut Creek until 8, then moved off, passing over an exceeding level and low plain covered with fine buffalo grass. In the evening we camped near Pawnee Rock and from our camp saw herds of buffalo covering the ridge. Around us we noticed some gopher holes, great quantities of the Malva, silver-margined Euphorbia, purslane, and the Ipomoea, Rudbeckia, Helianthus, cocklebur? Our encampment was within a mile of the river, to which we drove the animals to water. Our fires were made of the bois de vache and we lay down in the smoke to get rid of the mosquitoes. When we first approached, a number of wolves that were on the heels of the buffalo set up a terrible howl.
    Monday, July 13: This morning at 5 we were on our route, having sent out our hunter in pursuit of some of the buffalo. Mr. Emory killed a young bull, but our hunter was not successful. We soon arrived at the place where we camped last year, but there was no water there. we halted here a short time to pack the meat of the buffalo and then proceeded to Ash Creek, which was also dry.
    Continuing onwards with herds of buffalo dashing across our path, we at length reached Pawnee Pork. Here the waters were whirling along with great velocity and so high that our wagons could not cross. We therefore camped on the near side, resolved to wait the subsiding of the waters. We noticed here great many specimens of the Cucurbita and found it to be infested with the same insects as those that destroy the vines in our States.
    This creek is timbered with the elm and box elder. Some of the latter measure         in circumference. The indigo, Asclepias, and Opuntia were abundant, and we found great quantities of the wild plum close to the banks of the stream. The trees were loaded with grapes, but they were not yet ripe. During the day we frequently noticed the purslane, and the Pinette de prairie seemed to cover the plains. In the low grounds Coreopsis were shining in golden hues and the prickly pear was scattered over the arid uplands.
    During the evening a man was drowned in attempting to cross the creek. His name was Hughes. There were two men with him. at the time but could not help him out. His clothes were brought and given in charge of Lt. Emory.
    We saw today great numbers of blackbirds with yellow heads; also the common blackbird and the oriole, in the [sic]
    Tuesday, July 14: We remained here all day expecting the river to fall. I sent one of the men to dig up a specimen of the man root, which required several hours' hard work. The ground was very dry and hard and the mot more than three feet in length. I also collected some of the Mexican poppy, of which I made drawings. Saw several kingbirds and Baltimore orioles. Noticed quantities of the willow and toothache tree that grew in the waters. During the morning Laing brought me a very large toad that far exceeded anything I ever before had envisaged. I also made a sketch of the crossing of Pawnee Creek from the camp. In the evening I paid a visit to Mr. Hoffman's camp in company with Mr. Emory. One of the young gentlemen attached to the party had on his first hunt killed four buffalo cows and brought their tongues to the camp.
    Wednesday, July 15: This evening we completed our raft for crossing. It bears without being heavily loaded upwards of 1,000 lbs. The men worked with great energy and it was truly exciting to see them straddle the logs and float down in the rapid current, whose waters were rushing along with such fierce rapidity, dimpling the surface of the creek with miniature whirlpools and making the willows, now covered midway by the inundating waters, bend and spring as if moved by a hurricane. Sometimes a raft of brush and loose logs came rushing along, but our men stuck fast to the logs they bestrode and, as I before said, worked with great energy.
    During the evening Lieut. Turner arrived and brought me a letter from home. A letter from one's friends when so far away maketh the heart glad.
    We saw several specimens of the large white crane, their wings tipped with black. We found great quantities of the chokecherry along the river and several of the common striped prairie snake.
    Thursday, July 16: Today we commenced crossing our camp and before 11 everything was safe on the south side of the river. Although our raft had lost much of its buoyancy by its becoming waterlogged, it had been built of the dryest timber that we could find, for the elm and box elder, the only wood here, has when green a specific gravity but little less than that of water. Our wagon body was used as a deck to distribute the weight more equably. A rope was stretched across on which a noose could slide; this noose, being attached to the raft, prevented our craft being swept away in case the stretched cable should break. This precaution proved most wise, as the rope did break, but the knots upon it prevented the bridle from sliding off and our craft swung round into an eddy comparatively calm.
     We proceeded to cross our cavalcade of animals. Some of the horses were first driven in and went bravely over; others were very troublesome, but many of them, seeing some of their companions upon the far side, took the water freely. The sudden deepening of the creek made me fear lest some of the animals could not get up the banks that, in addition to steepness, were now covered with a thick coating of slippery mud deposited by the waters now fast receding, for they had fallen a feet during the night and the day before 2 feet. Still the current was extremely rapid and the Volunteers who were camping at the regular ford about 1/4 mile above us lost several of their horses.
    Today the man who was drowned was buried. His friends sent to us for his clothing, in which to bury him, and before the sun went down he was deposited in his long resting place. "Requiescat in pace."
    About 11 o'clock Col. Donithon came over and invited Lt. Peck and myself to attend Col. Kearny, who wished to gain information respecting the road to Bent's Fort by the way of the Smoky Hill Fork. But the hardships one endures on that route, the roughness of the road, and its length forced him to decide against pursuing that route.
    About 3 o'clock this evening we again moved forwards, following the south side of a tributary to the Pawnee Creek until we struck the road. We then pressed on until near 10 at night, when we encamped near some pools of water, being made aware of our approach to them some time before they were in sight by the cry of the killdeer plover. We soon kindled a cheerful fire of bois de vache and found that we had camped in a village of prairie dogs, a bad place for picketing horses as the neighbourhood is generally almost destitute of grass. During the evening I found a species of cactus in form nearly globular, made up of radiating fingers whose tips were crowned with stars of white spines. We saw today many skylarks. They were as tame as the birds on prairies generally are. The evening was quite cold and blankets were in great demand.
    Baptiste springing off the raft, the horses sinking down as they sprang into the water until their feet touched the bottom, and then rearing half out, were beautiful subject for description.
    Friday, July 17: We have now entered that portion of the prairie that deserved to be included under the Great Desert. The grass is extremely short and wiry, curling about in all directions like the hair on a buffalo's forehead. The cacti are numerous. The white-edged Asclepias, Pinette, common indigo, common thistle, truncated Asclepias, and [sic]. We saw, too, several wild horses. In one group there were three and through our spyglasses we had a fine opportunity for examining them closely. There was a bay, a roan, and a black. They were fine large horses, unlike the mustangs, but their wildness was extreme. Buffaloes were around us on all sides. The whole horizon was lined with them, and their figures lengthened out into tall objects resembling trees, for the mirage was at work distorting all our distant views.
    In the evening 5 Pawnee Indians visited our camp. They were almost naked, and faces painted. We kept guard all that night with great care. Heard the howling of wolves and bellowing of buffalo. Found one of the guard asleep and took his gun, but waking him I gave it back. 14 miles.
    Saturday, July 18: This morning when we first awoke we saw a very large herd of buffaloes not more than 300 yds. from our camp. They saw us plainly, but as the wind did not blow towards them they paid but little regard to our presence. They were moving along in an extremely slow walk in the direction of the water and feeding leisurely, now and then casting a sinister glance at us. In order to examine them with great minuteness I took my spyglass and sat down by one of the wagons, and made several sketches.
    Soon we saw a number of Volunteers urging their jaded horses under the pricking spur; at every touch of the rowels their tails were thrown up and their slow gait showed they had run far. They soon gave up the herd they were pursuing and all turned upon a lagging bull of immense size and soon brought him to the ground. In a little while some of them rode into our camp, amongst whom was Capt. Parsons, the successful hunter.
    We now ascertained that we were upon the upper route as we had long suspected, and in order to avoid a night as harassing as last night we determined to move down to the main body, which threw them in the advance. In crossing we saw some singular plants, and some very beautiful ones amongst which were the Gaillardia. As soon as we struck the road we met with Maj. Clark's battalion of artillery.
    This morning whilst travelling on the upper route a small herd of buffalo passed along parallel with the road. They were galloping for dear life. Our Indian friend Baptiste stooped, drew up his rifle, and as the smoke burst forth we saw a fine buffalo cow dash her heels high in the air, and thus she continued to jump and kick for a quarter of a mile, when she fell and all the rest gathered around her. We already had two fat cows, and as the waggons were so far away from the place where the cow had fallen she was then left to feed the wolves. The roads were full of little lizards that ran along in the ruts before the waggons, with manifest disinclination to play the part of the devotees of Juggernaut. On the route I met a man who had shot a specimen of the American avoset. The tail and its coverts were white, wings black and white, legs blue, and bill recurved. Cold, 62o F.
     Arkansas River

Sunday, July 19: We now march in the Arkansas bottom. Here one observes a great variety of grasses and mingled with them an abundance of poele Equisetum. We made a short march as far as Jackson’s Grove, 11 miles by Maj. Clark's odometer, after we were obliged to stop an hour on account of the loss of a linchpin. This was soon replaced by one that our men manufactured from a picket.
    I went back about three miles for the purpose of getting someone of Col. Kearney's command to show the exact location of the capture of the Texans by Capt. Cooke in 1843. Col. Kearney detailed Lieut. Love of the Dragoons, who showed us the spot we sought. On the opposite side of the river there is a large grove extending about 1/4 of a mile along the riverbank.
    In the evening I went to Col. Kearney's encampment for the purpose of having some of our animals' shoes adjusted. We had expected to have gone but 4 miles whereas the distance proved to be 8. I therefore took Col. Kearney's advice and remained here.
    Monday, July 20: This morning we had not marched far, I having waited until Lt. Emory’s command came up and joined them, when we saw the Colonel's guard stop and encamp. Soon Lt. Emory, who had preceded us some distance, rode over and told us that the Colonel was very sick. The instrument wagon was therefore taken over for the purpose of conveying him by more easy stages. It was light and had good springs, whilst all the other wagons in the army were made after the plan of the Santa Fe wagon and were too rough to convey an invalid.
    This day we made a march of 31½  miles; passing along the top of a high, barren ridge about 1 or 2 miles distant from the river, nothing of interest was to be seen. The sun poured down his most lavishly. The men dismounted and walked in order to rest themselves. First one and then another became sick. One of our party was seized with a severe vomiting and I was obliged to call upon the doctor. I passed a sleepless night, listening to the footsteps of the guard; and the conversation of our French boys broke upon the stillness of the night: they too were not able to sleep soundly.
    In the afternoon called upon Maj. C and Capt. W in order to have a hind axletree made.
    Tuesday, July 21: This morning we had quite a sorry-looking array of human faces. At daybreak I was seized with a vomiting which lasted some time. I was again obliged to send for the doctor and, determined to push forward in compliance with my orders, committed myself to the wagoner's care whilst Lieut. Peck took command of the camp. Lying here, my eye roved over but a confined prospect: under me were blankets, red, blue, and white; near me a sick man who lay gazing upward; above me the bended bows of the wagon that supported a large white cover, dwindling in perspective distance until through a little hole in front one caught a glimpse of the blue sky. We made but a short march of 11 miles, to where the artillery battalion encamped, and we formed our camp alongside of it so that we could have an opportunity of completing the axletree that we began yesterday. We soon saw our instrument wagon and learnt that Col. Kearney had perfectly recovered.
    We saw this evening a large burial p1ace on the opposite side of the river. The bodies were wrapped in blankets and sashes and placed on a platform of lodgepoles high up in a large tree, safe from wolves and the sacrilegious touch all men who may not be destined for the gallows. I got at this place a new kind of Psoralea, the calyx having but one sepal.
    July 24: For the last few days I have been suffering under such severe sickness that a long interval has crept into my journal. Fever, such a fever, and sick with fever on the prairies – but I'll go back.
    July 22: This morning started all pretty well saving myself; but I soon felt a strange torpor steal over me. About quarter of g o'clock Lt. Peck was seized with a severe vomiting and had to enter the wagon. I took up the sketching. In the evening late we reached Col. Kearney. We had started at 10 o'clock and marched 25 miles by 6½  o'clock, including stoppages. I suffered for the last hour with severe cramp in the stomach which I thought not trifling. The doctor came over, said I had a high fever, and gave me 7 calomel pills. A restless night; burning face.
    July 23: Today I was put in the inst wagon, and then how I wished for friends at home to be night. I had water but was only allowed to rinse my mouth. In the evening an excessive perspiration came upon me; it streamed from the top of head into my eyes and mouth. I got a young friend to bathe my eyes, and the sensation was so delightful that I just let him pour seven basins of water in succession over my head. This I believe checked the perspiration too soon; my fever still held to me and I lay suffering with parched lips and dry tongue.
    July 24: Today I was put in the wagon again, several doses of quinine taken, and I rolled along like a sick man on the prairies. Arrived at Bent July 29.


From Susan Shelby Magoffin, Down the Santa Fe Trail and into Mexico Dragoon Camp

[Sunday, July 26, 1846] Sunday morning after getting the wagons up there and encamped, some fifteen miles from the fort, we came on ourselves. Some four miles below the Fort we passed the soldiers encampment, another novel sight to me, perhaps there were fifty or more little tents stretched around in a ring with here and there a wagon, and a little shade made of tree limbs. The idle soldiers were stretched under these, others were out watering horses staked about the camp, some were drying clothes in the sun &c. &c.

At the outer edge of the encampment stood a sentinel, who with all the dignity and pomp, though by no means a Sampson in statue, of his office shouldered his musket marched up, and stoped us with the words "where go you"? We gave him our directions, he reported us to the sergeant at arms, and without farther ceremony we were permitted to pass on. In a little time we were in sight of the Fort and soon after, were in it. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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